The family of Holly Piirainen, the 10-year-old who was kidnapped and killed back in 1993, learned of a new forensic lead that has linked a dead Springfield man to the murder of their daughter. Investigators believe new evidence links David Pouliot, who had frequented the area where Piirainen was found, to the murder of the 10-year-old girl.

The nature of the item shows that either Mr. Pouliot, or people associated with him, were in this immediate area at the time relevant to Holly's disappearance and the finding of her remains,'' said Mark Mastroianni, Hampden's District Attorney.

Mastroianni said the forensic link does not mean the Piirainen's murder case is closed; it does mean, however, that it may be coming to a head.

This is the lead we've all been waiting for, said Richard Piirainen, Holly's father. We feel it's the beginning of the end of this case.

Holly went missing on Aug. 5, 1993, when she and her brother had left to visit their grandparents in Sturbridge, Mass. After the two kids went to a neighbor's house to look at puppies, only Holly's brother returned. One of Holly's shoes was found by the side of the road.

After a two-month search, Holly's body was found in a wooded area of Brimfield on Oct. 23.

She was a typical 10 year old. She wanted to be a marine biologist,'' said Maureen Lemieux, Piirainen's grandmother. She loved the water. She loved swimming. She loved being out in Sturbridge. ... She was a lovable little girl and we miss her.''

For the last 18 years, several suspects have emerged in the case, but each one led investigators to a dead end. At a press conference on Tuesday, Mastroianni announced that using 21st century forensic techniques, evidence was found that indisputably links to Pouliot.

We were always told we'd probably be waiting on the forensic technology to get better, said Richard Piirainen. Now we're hoping some of his friends or associates might come forward with new information.

While Pouliot is now linked to the case, Matroianni maintains that the case is still under investigation. Pouliot apparently frequented Brimfield -- the same area where Holly's body was found --to go hunting and fishing.

We linked him forensically to the scene,'' Mastroianni said. But he is not a suspect.''

Mastroianni added that there is still no direct link between the Piirainen case and the killing of 10-year-old Molly Bish, who was the same age as Holly when she heard about her disappearance. Bish wrote a sympathetic letter to Holly's family at the time.

I am very sorry, Bish wrote. I wish I could make it up to you. Holly is a very pretty girl. She is almost as tall as me. I wish I knew Holly. I hope they found her.

In a strange turn of events, Bish was kidnapped and murdered seven years after Piirainen was found dead. Bish's remains were similarly found in a wooded area in Worcester County. Police immediately considered at the time that Holly's killer was also Molly's.

Pouliot was once arrested in 1999 after police watched him buy cocaine and snort it in the driver's seat of his Dodge pickup truck. Besides the one drug incident, officials say Pouliot has no other records of violent crimes or sex offenses. Pouliot died from congestive heart failure in August 2003.

State Sen. Stephen Brewer also said he would offer a $15,000 reward for new information that could lead to IDing Piirainen's killer.

I'm 18 years older than I was then, Lemieux said. I would like to see some results in my lifetime. ... It would be wonderful. It would be the hopes of our dreams.''